Terry Don Phillips went with his gut

Terry Don Phillips went with his gut


Terry Don Phillips went with his gut


As history at Clemson has taught us, he made the right choice when he hired an inexperienced head coach in Dabo Swinney

When he hired Dabo Swinney to be his head coach back on Dec. 1, 2008, Terry Don Phillips knew a large group of Clemson people were not going to be happy about it.

“And I don’t blame them,” Phillips said to The Clemson Insider.

Phillips said the fans’ passion for their football program is what makes Clemson so special. He understands their passion. He understands the history of the program.

“We have some good success in football and people are very proud of the football program through history,” Phillips said. “Clemson does not need to take a backseat to anyone.

“So, when you elevate someone from an assistant coach’s position, when they have not even been a coordinator, I understand why people were upset.”

But sometimes rolling the dice on a guy like Dabo Swinney pays off and if history has taught us anything at Clemson, rolling the dice more often than not has worked out well for the Tigers.

In 1940, when he left Clemson to go coach at Rice, Jess Neely recommend his young assistant coach, who played at Alabama and had no head coaching experience, to take over the program.

Sound familiar?

Frank Howard got the job when he seconded his own nomination during a meeting with the school’s president and athletic council. Howard signed a one-year contract and then lost it and never signed another one during his 30 years at Clemson.

After 165 victories, eight conference championships and three bowl victories in six appearances, it is safe to say things worked out.

Keep in mind, before 1960, there were just nine bowl games and Howard’s teams played in four of them. His Clemson’s team played in two Orange Bowls and one Sugar Bowl during his time, which were called major bowl games. The Tigers also played in two Gator Bowls and one Bluebonnet Bowl under Howard.

Howard’s team also won 96 ACC games after the league started in 1953 until he retired after the 1969 season. That is the third most in ACC history. Keep in mind, there were only eight teams in the conference then and in 12 of those 17 years Clemson played six or fewer conference games.

In 1978, the Tigers took another shot with an inexperienced head coach when Charlie Pell up and left Clemson for Florida.

With the recommendation of the players, Danny Ford became the Tigers’ head coach prior to the 1978 Gator Bowl. He was Pell’s offensive line coach.

Like Howard, he had no coordinator or head coaching experience. Also, like Howard, he was extremely young and played for the University of Alabama. Ford was just 30 years old when he took over as head coach.

Does that sound familiar?

After 96 victories in 11 seasons as head coach, it is safe to say things worked out okay. Ford’s Clemson teams compiled a 96-29-4 record in those 11 seasons, including one national championship, five ACC Championships and five bowl victories in seven appearances.

When he left Clemson in 1989, Ford was the third winningest active coach in the country and his 76-percent win-percentage in ACC competition makes him one of just two coaches in league history with such numbers.

So, was Phillips taking a chance with Dabo Swinney any different than what Clemson had done in the past?

“I actually thought about the backlash before I made the recommendation to the president about Dabo, but at the end of the day, I just believed if I did not go in that direction, I would regret it,” Phillips said.

As we all know, it has all worked out.

In his 11 years running the Clemson program (10 as the full-time coach) Swinney’s teams are 116-30. Like Howard and Ford before him, Swinney was a young assistant coach who played at Alabama and had no coordinator or head coaching experience.

The Tigers have won two national championships, five ACC Championships, nine bowl games and seven ACC Atlantic Division titles.

I think it is safe to say things worked out.

–Above photo courtesy of Clemson Athletic Communications 

Move over Alabama, Clemson is the new King of College Football. In our new magazine “Little Ole Clemson”: The Best “Little” Dynasty Ever, we examine not just the 2018 team’s run to being “the best ever” but examine the last four seasons and how Dabo Swinney turned Clemson into the new dynasty of college football. We also take a look at the role former athletic director Terry Don Phillips played. We go behind the scenes at the Tigers’ run to a second national championship in three seasons and the previous three national championship runs. It also features stories on the Power Rangers, the 2018 senior class, high quality photos and much, much more.

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